In December 2018, Meng Wanzhou, the Chief Financial Officer for Huawei, a China-based tech company which is dominating the telecom supplies, was arrested in Vancouver, Canada on her flight stop to Mexico. This was done on a request from the USA with whom Canada has an extradition treaty. She was sought by the USA for allegedly dealing with Iran using an American banking system in spite of the sanctions placed on Iran by the country, in 2013. In May, Wanzhou lost the legal challenge to the extradition process, meaning that they will go ahead with the extradition proceedings.
Within days of Wanzhou’s arrest, two Canadian citizens in China were arrested on alleged accounts of spying. This is seen as a retaliation for the Wangzhou arrest by the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who says that there is a direct link between Wanzhou’s arrest and those of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, the Canadians who are detained in China. Though China has been tight-lipped about the link between the two, these two incidents are often raised jointly by the Chinese spokesperson. David Mulroney, former ambassador for Canada to China, has said that the officials in Beijing are mirroring the ongoing extradition case to that of the detained Canadians.
Although Mr. Trudeau has in the past repeatedly emphasized the need for good relations with China, and has enthusiastically worked on them to the point of agreeing to discuss a Canada-China extradition treaty. But the China-Canada relations already started souring much before the arrest after a trade deal fell through in 2017. Many major carriers in the country, some of which have been outspoken in their support of Huawei, have decided to shun the company and opt for western alternatives instead. One of them, Bell Mobility, even announced that it will use equipment from its Finnish rival, Nokia.
Huawei is considered a symbol for China’s technological prowess, and the arrest is seen by the Chinese Communist Party as an attack on its symbol of technological achievement. The Chinese state-owned newspaper the Global Times calls the act a “political persecution launched by the US, with the intention to contain China’s high-tech development.” The China Daily also criticized the court ruling as unfair and potentially harmful in mending the Canada-China relations.
There has also been a backlash from legal experts and family members of the detained Canadians on the Canadian policy of letting the extradition charges proceed and not going with a prisoner swap. Mr. Mulroney, however, feels that it would legitimize “hostage diplomacy”, which would put at risk all traveling Canadians for arbitrary arrests to gain political leverage. There is a stark difference between the condition of the hostages and that of Meng Wanzhou, for while the two prisoners spend their days in small cells in isolation, interrupted by interrogation and bland meals, Wanzhou lives in her Vancouver mansion, being happy about the fact that she can spend more time reading and oil painting, now.
The Canadian government is also claiming that it has to let the extradition process go on without political interference as to not compromise the independent, legal decision of surrendering the Huawei CFO. Mr. Mulroney has said that “it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. It would compromise the integrity of both our democracy and our justice system,” and that their values need to count for something. Brian Greenspan, a Toronto lawyer with experience on extradition cases, has said that the government has the power to withdraw from the extradition case, and that the lessons from a previous case in which political pressure affected an international case, are being applied wrongly here.
There are many sides to this tension, complicated by previous feuds, economic decisions, the detentions of the Canadians and Wanzhou and the difference between the political and the legal, and the many opinions on whether it should be that way.